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Dolly Sods Excursion

By Jenn

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West Virginia’s tourism-driven tagline is “Wild & Wonderful.” Perhaps no place in West Virginia personifies this description better than the Dolly Sods plateau, which encompasses the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and the Bear Rocks Preserve and lies within the Monongahela National Forest. If you are unfamiliar with the area, I highly recommend reading about it. The history, climate, and ecology of the area create as unique of a story as you will find anywhere.

I had read about Dolly Sods in 2011 and so I ventured a short excursion in October of 2011 to explore the are then with plans to travel back at a time when the foliage would be at peak. I was in awe of the uniqueness of the landscape. In some ways it reminded me of the tundra environments in the Colorado Rocky Mountains but in another sense there was something completely wild and untamed about this landscape that was different. The landscape was strewn with enormous rugged boulders and the sods, ripe with berries and heath create a sea of red all along the plateau.

This was my first opportunity to go back for peak foliage, so I planned a short weekend trip to go, while trying to avoid the crowds for the local leaf peeping festival in nearby Davis, WV. There is one campground at Dolly Sods, the Red Creek Campground and it only has about 9 spots suitable for my tiny trailer.  I knew it would be full on Friday and Saturday evenings, so I left for Dolly Sods on Sunday and was fortunate to score the only campsite left.

When I arrived, the weather certainly did not feel like normal Dolly Sods weather. Mostly clear blue skies and warm temperatures were made even more enjoyable by nearly still winds.

I had a little time to explore the plateau and find a spot for sunset. A couple of locals had assured me that they had never seen Rattlesnakes or Copperhead at the top of the plateau, which eventually convinced me to brave the rock-strewn fields and scramble over the boulders to discover interesting compositions. The poisonous critters do live in the area and I had passed a rather flattened Rattlesnake in the middle of the road not to far before I made my turn to climb to the top of the plateau. I wanted to capture a different perspective of the Bear Rocks Preserve than I had seen from others, so I set up at another outcropping of rocks to the south of the preserve.

The next morning was more typical of Dolly Sods weather: cloudy, cooler, and windy. The sunrise was unspectacular but I took advantage of the cloud cover to try to capture some rugged landscape images and focus on the heath without the glare of sunlight.

After some more exploration, I packed up my campsite and began the 4 hour drive back to Pittsburgh, enjoying the emerging fall color all the way up to the Pennsylvania border.